Jesus a.s. Calls God “Abba”
Farhan Iqbal, Canada
Previously, in this series of articles, it was proven that Jesusas never made the claim that he was God. What is more is that the one place where Jesusas is confronted and accused of blasphemy and claiming to be God, he does not take the opportunity to affirm that the accuser is right and that he is indeed God (see John 10). Instead, he quotes from the scripture where others before him have also been called “gods” because they were recipients of revelation.
In response to this, Christian apologists form their arguments in interesting ways. For instance, Mr William Lane Craig – a well-known scholar of Christianity – points out that the high Christological titles attributed to Jesusas “serve to express explicitly what Jesusas had already said about himself implicitly”. (Reasonable Faith – Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 244)
In my understanding, this statement represents a common theme used by Christian apologists to argue the divinity of Jesusas. Due to the lack of explicit statements of Jesusas on his divinity, arguments are made from statements which imply that Jesusas must have been God incarnate – or God “becoming flesh”.
An example of this implication is the way Jesusas prayed to God by referring to Him as “abba” which no one else would do among the Jews of his time, as Craig argues (ibid.). He says that even though early Christians also prayed to God as “abba”, such usage was derived from Jesus’as own practice, and he never joined with them in praying “Our Father…”.
He always referred to God as, “My Father” and made this distinction clear as mentioned in John 20:17, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” In other words, Jesus’as relationship with God the Father is different from the relationship of the disciples with God the Father.
This argument actually stems from the writings of a German New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias who wrote that Jesus’as usage of this term is similar to the way a child addresses his father. Later on, zealous apologists started saying that “abba” is similar to saying “daddy” or “papa” in order to bring home the point that Jesusas was uniquely intimate with God when he addressed Him as “abba”.
In fact, this is a common argument that apologists use nowadays to provide evidence for the unique relationship of Jesusas with God, subsequently trying to prove that he was part of the “Godhead” or second member of the Trinity.
The first problem with this argument is that sincere Christians themselves know the weakness of this argument and refute it (See an example here: www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-does-abba-mean-daddy). In a blog entry made on arotau on 19 January 19 2013 (https://arotau.com/2013/01/19/abba-isnt-daddy), the Christian author argues that the word “abba” was not a “particularly intimate term” and was not used by children alone. It was simply not a child’s term and there is debate about the development of the word. The author also quotes one scholar, Mr James Barr, who most vehemently opposed this argument, stating that there is no foundation for this. (James Barr, The Journal of Theological Studies 39, Oxford University Press, pp. 28-47)
Secondly, a closer study of the 3 verses where this word is used demonstrates further why this argument is not acceptable:
1. Mark 14:36: “He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’”
2. Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
3. Galatians 4:6: “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”
The first thing that is noticeable from these verses is that there is only one instance where Jesusas is directly quoted as using this term. It is assumed that Jesusas always addressed God as “abba” but this is based only on one verse in the gospel of Mark. The other two references are from the epistles of Paul.
The second thing to note is that every time this word is used, it is followed by the word “Father” as a translation. In the Journal of Biblical Literature, Mary Rose D’Angelo argues that the Greek authors of the Bible always placed the Greek words “ὁ πατήρ” (ho pater: Father) next to the word “abba” so that the reader would know what they mean by this usage. Had they desired to express that this word was equivalent to the way a child speaks to his father, they would have used the Greek equivalent which is πἀπας/πἀππας (papas). (Mary Rose D’Angelo, Abba and “father”: Imperial Theology and the Jesus Traditions, Journal of Biblical Literature 111, pp. 615-616)
What is more is that the Greek definite article ὁ (ho) specifically means that this was a formal address to God the Father, far from being informal or casual like “daddy”. In other words, the argument that the usage of the term “abba” by Jesusas makes him uniquely intimate with God, unlike other Prophets or holy men, does not have any linguistic or scholastic base.
Third, if Jesusas had been born without a father or mother and then referred to God as “abba”, it may have been a compelling case for the deity of Jesusas. However, the fact is that Jesusas had a mother as the Holy Quran points out:
“And his mother was a truthful woman.” (Surah al-Maida, Ch.5: V.76)
The Promised Messiahas explains this argument when he writes that it is absolutely clear that the children of a living being are born into their species. He argues:
“Look at the numerous animals such as humans, horses, donkeys, every kind of bird – they are born into their specific species. It does not happen that a human is born out of a bird, or a human gives birth to a bird” (Jang-e-Muqaddas, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 6, p. 10). As a result, since Jesusas was born of a mother, it should be clear that he was only a human being and not a different species.
What is strange is that the apologists expect everyone to believe that Jesusas is God because he addressed Him as “abba” while altogether neglecting the fact that Jesusas was born from the womb of a human mother. According to them, the use of a simple term like “abba” can prove Jesus’as unique relationship with God, but the fact that he was born of a woman does not have any weight!
Finally, it is important to note that even if Jesusas uniquely used the word “abba” for God, it does not imply in any way that he had a special relationship with God because the lexicons do not give that much weight to the words “abba” or “father”. Every word must be judged based on the position assigned to it by a lexicon. It cannot be given more honour than a lexicon.
In this case, the lexicon says that when a person is born of the seed of another, the person who drops the seed and has no further connection with his birth, is called his “abb” or father. The Promised Messiahas notes:
“…we find that all the lexicon discloses is that when a person is in fact born of the seed of another, and he who drops the seed has no further connection with his birth, it is said that that other is his ‘abb’ [father]. If it should be desired to indicate that Almighty God is Himself the Conscious Creator of a person, and Himself leads him towards perfection, and out of His great mercy bestows appropriate bounties on him, and is Himself his Guardian and Supporter, the lexicon does not permit that these connotations may be expressed by the employment of the word ‘father’; the lexicon provides another term for the expression of this concept, and that word is ‘Rabb’… We are not at all entitled to invent our own lexicon, and must follow the division of words established by God from the beginning.” (Minan-ur-Rahman, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 9, pp. 155-156)
Based on this, it is hard to understand how the use of such a simple term like “abb” or “abba” can elevate a person to such a high status that he is believed to be the one and only Son of God.